The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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From hell-hole to home zone

Narrow, dirty roads. Stinking open drains. Primitive toilets. Waterlogging even after a drizzle. For an estimated 350,000 residents of Dakshin Dari, a huge slum between VIP Road and Jessore Road, this is part of everyday life. They have lived without basic civic amenities for the past 40 years. Problems associated with a high crime rate make Dakshin Dari the dark underbelly of Dum Dum.

“Drug-peddling and drug-related crimes are high here,” said Ajay Nand, additional superintendent of police, in charge of the area. “Unauthorised cattle-sheds pose an environmental hazard,” he added. More than 75 per cent of the residents of these slums live below the poverty line. They are mostly potters and daily-wagers, as well as employees of closed companies. Their poverty has deprived them of the will to voice their grievances.

But now, the families cannot only look forward to enjoying basic facilities, they can think beyond — about parks and community centres where they can hold weddings by paying a nominal rent. All this, because of a city-based voluntary organisation, Usthi Foundation. It has been running a hospital in the area for the past 25 years and has now taken up the Rs 1-crore Dakshin Dari Development Project, building toilet complexes, markets, community centres, parks, renovating old drainage systems and constructing new ones.

The project, funded by the Rotary Club, Switzerland, covers four wards of South Dum Dum municipality. “Work has started and we aim to complete the project by November,” said Pradipta Kanungo, executive committee member of Usthi and in charge of the project. Seven big slums of the area, which are least developed, come under the project.

“We will repair the old drains and build new ones. The total length of the sewerage will be 3.5 km,” an Usthi officer said. One outlet of the drain will be on Jessore Road and the other in Ultadanga canal. “The area is like a valley. Water flows in from Jessore Road and other areas. It becomes hellish during the monsoon. We hope to turn it into a better place,” he said.

Pay-and-use toilets will be introduced. A toilet complex will be built in ward 32. Baths and toilets are meant for other wards.

Milton McCann, secretary of Usthi Foundation, dreams of turning the area into a clean township. Local people, too, share his dream. “Lack of proper toilets has been polluting the environment for a long time. Now, we are looking forward to using a clean toilet for the first time in 40 years,” said Santosh Pal, a potter, who lives in a makeshift hut in ward 33.

There is only one hitch. “Paucity of funds can leave the project incomplete. We plan to approach corporate houses,” Pradipta Kanungo said.

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